Majority is now assured but sceptics remain
By Andrew Swallow
TWO-THIRDS of UK grain is now assured under either the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme or Scottish Quality Cereals, claims administrator UK Food Quality Certification.
But with two harvests home since the launch of the ACCS scheme, many growers remain unconvinced of its value. Some members are considering allowing their subscriptions to lapse, while non-members are in no hurry to sign up.
"It has been a complete and utter waste of time and money," says Suffolk farmer James Foskett. "Not one merchant has asked whether I am assured or not."
Fear of marketing penalties prompted him to join in the first year of the scheme. But no penalties or premiums, have materialised, simply extra cost, he says.
"We are part of the Assured Produce Scheme and Tescos Natures Choice, so we are following all the guidelines. ACCS is just another cost."
For growers with no assurance experience, the scheme could tighten management practices, he concedes.
That is echoed by John Owen, of Acton Piggot, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire. "It is a good discipline, but weve had no advantage when selling grain. Perhaps, in the future, it will be a passport to sell."
Lincs grower Edward Hennell also wants trade recognition soon. "At the moment I feel we have been through quite a bit of red tape for no reward. We have got to reassure the public our food is safe and I would like to think it has been worth it. But so far every merchant I have spoken to since harvest has failed to mentioned it."
On the first farm ever to stump up cash to join the scheme (FW Arable Focus, Feb 27, 1998), Robert Campbell is pondering whether or not to renew membership at Swell Buildings Farm, near Stow-on-the-Wold. "Traders and users dont seem very concerned one way or another.
"Our decision will hinge on the feedback I get from the trade. At the end of the day, with good stores, and the right stuff, the grain will sell either way I suspect."
Berks grower Colin Raynor remains vehemently opposed to the scheme, despite growing 80% milling wheat. "I havent joined and I wont join. I have talked to the merchants I deal with and all have said they will trade with me for harvest 2000. They know we keep our stores better than ACCS standards and if they want to they can come and do a personal check. We do not need to spend £800 on membership."
Allowing a private, profit-making organisation to administrate the scheme was a big mistake and ACCS standards do not go far enough, he believes. "The NFU made a horrendous error of judgement. Assurance hasnt saved the pig, sheep or beef industry."
Beds grower Thomas Beazley hasnt joined the scheme either, and reckons a £3/t premium would be required to cover membership fee and extra administration costs due to ACCS on his 280ha (700 acre) farm.
Chairman of the ACCS board of directors, Johnathon Tipples, remains adamant ACCS is the way forward for most growers and says renewal charges are being reviewed.
"We have asked UKFQC to come to us with proposals on charges, and the board will look at them when we meet in November. Lower renewal fees would certainly be favoured – we feel it is only fair to support those who have supported us."
No ACCS board members have shareholdings in UKFQC, or receive payment for their services on the ACCS board, Mr Tipples stresses.
• Growers registered with ACCS are asked to make sure all passports have the ACCS sticker attached. "The millers and compounders are not picking up the number of stickers they would expect. If ACCS is to be an advantage in the end, we need to convince buyers that there is enough assured grain available."